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Irked lawmakers override Stitt vetoes on last day of regular session but accept his challenge to create a better budget | Govt-and-politics

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Legislature on Friday overrode some of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s vetoes, including one from last year, and called him some names, but it did not overturn his vetoes of key budget items.

Instead, the House unanimously upheld Stitt’s vetoes of the two bills, so that they never went to the Senate, and accepted his challenge to come up with more comprehensive tax relief in a special session.

The end result was the death of a proposed $75 tax rebate for single filers and $150 for joint filers and the continuation of a 1.25% sales tax on all motor vehicle sales.

Stitt said the measures did not provide enough tax and inflation relief to residents and called the legislators back into special session on June 13. Legislators indicated that they may amend the call of their special session to include tax relief.

The final gavel of the regular session fell in the House of Representatives about 4 p.m., followed by the Senate just before the 5 p.m. constitutional deadline to end the legislative session.

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The Senate stoically went about its work Friday without much comment, but the more uninhibited House freely expressed bipartisan annoyance with the governor.

“Racist and hateful” is how Rep. Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond, described Stitt’s treatment of the state’s Native American tribes.

Stitt’s administration, said Rep. Collin Walke, D-Oklahoma City, is “corrupt and full of cronies.”

“Do you feel like the governor just spread vetoes out like mayonnaise in back, dark, smoke-filled rooms, behind closed doors, and you weren’t invited to the party?” asked Rep. Scott Fetgatter, R-Okmulgee.

And, in a written statement, Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, used “excreted” to describe the manner in which Stitt’s comments were issued at a Thursday press conference.

In that press conference, Stitt announced his vetoes of the tax rebate and car tax bills and criticized lawmakers for alleged backroom deals and bad behavior. He then said he was calling a June 13 special session to consider his proposal to cut the top state income tax rate from 4.75% to 4.5% and eliminate the state sales tax on groceries, both of which were considered and rejected by the Legislature this session.

Speaking after Friday’s final adjournment, McCall took Stitt to task, saying he was “appalled” and “disappointed” in the governor’s remarks.

He said Stitt’s remarks undermined the hard work the Legislature put into crafting a budget.

“We work for the people of Oklahoma,” McCall said. “We don’t work for the governor of Oklahoma.”

Rather than answer Stitt’s special session call to address tax relief, McCall said lawmakers will amend the special session call issued by the Legislature for several purposes, including taking control of the state’s American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Among the vetoes overridden Friday was that of Senate Bill 1695, a measure requiring those appointed by the governor as director of an agency or Cabinet member to file financial disclosure statements.

In his veto message, Stitt said he urged lawmakers to revisit the topic and pass legislation that affects all state officers, whether appointed, elected or subject to retention. On the House floor, Martinez said that was a discussion worth having but not a reason to prevent the provisions of SB 1695 from going into effect.

Lawmakers also overrode Stitt’s veto of Senate Bill 1052, which provided nearly $8 million for private prisons that have state contracts. In his veto message, Stitt claimed that the appropriation was negotiated directly with lawmakers and without the knowledge of the Department of Corrections.

On Friday, House Appropriations and Budget Chairman Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, said the agreement was reached during a conference call that included DOC Director Scott Crow.

Lawmakers also overrode Stitt’s veto of House Bill 3501, which will require the Department of Public Safety to count convictions in tribal courts when determining driver’s license suspensions.

Stitt, who has been highly critical of tribes, in his veto message said the measure was passed under the guise of public safety but was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” because it would require the state to carry out tribal court adjudications.

It was this override vote that elicited Martinez’s remark about Stitt’s attitude toward tribal governments. Others said Stitt’s well-known animus in that regard was interfering with “good policy.”

One of the overrides was for HB 1090, which Stitt vetoed more than a year ago but which was still in play because bills from the first session of a Legislature carry over to the second.

That bill allows the State Auditor & Inspector’s Office to carry out performance audits without the formal request now required. Potentially, the change could have substantial consequences.

No specific date has been set for the Legislature’s special session.

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McFarland looks at turning library into police station | News

City leaders have rallied around a proposal to acquire the Clara M. Jackson Branch and convert it into a revamped headquarters for its Police Department. The City Council, the local district superintendent and McFarland’s Recreation and Park District director recently penned letters to the county.

“With even a cursory review of the police department’s facility, it becomes glaringly obvious that the Department’s lack of space hinders them from efficiently and effectively carrying out their law enforcement duties,” wrote Aaron Resendez, superintendent of the McFarland Unified School District.

The City Council cited “minimal objection” from the public in its letter, but since word spread about the proposal, it has faced stronger opposition, including an online petition that’s amassed more than 1,600 signatures. Some of the biggest proponents of keeping the library where it is are young patrons themselves.

“Our memories are here,” said Jazmine Ciciliano, 12. “We grew up in this place.”

“We want it to stay a library forever,” said Yazmine Olivera, 11.

“I get it, we need more safety, but this library is basically safety to us,” said Nicole Franco, 10. “It just feels like home.”

When school lets out, students walk to the library and many spend their afternoons there until the library closes at 6 p.m. They worry about what will happen after school if the library disappears.

“It will ruin friendships,” said Ruben Abundis, 11.

“What am I supposed to do, jump on my bed?” asked Natalie Lara, 9.

Money is the key factor in how many hours a library location is open, and Kern County has the worst-funded county library system in California.

Kern County is about the size of New Jersey but with more people than San Francisco. It also has more than twice as many children, according to census figures. In rural areas like McFarland, the rates of children are higher: 34.6 percent of residents are under 18.

Funding discrepancy

Within its 8,131 square miles, Kern County has 22 libraries with an operating budget of $9 million this year. By contrast, San Francisco has 28 locations within its 47 square miles with a budget of $171 million.

Currently, every branch in San Francisco is open five to seven days a week, but in Kern County, most branches are open two or three days a week. The central Bakersfield library is the only branch open five days a week.

The discrepancy in funding between library systems is a consequence of the fact that California’s 1,130 public libraries are funded almost entirely locally. Last year, local governments provided 94 percent of California public libraries’ $1.84 billion. Federal and state contributions typically come in the form of grants for targeted programs.

On a Friday afternoon, the McFarland library is bustling. Branch supervisor Frank Cervantes shows patrons how to make jester hats. Children wander the stacks. Young patrons pepper the reference desk with questions. Two boys get help to find a copy of “Sideways Stories from Wayside School.” Toddlers play in a kitchen set. The computers are full. A young girl receives tutoring at a back table. As the arts and crafts program winds down, Cervantes announces that it’s story time, and patrons gather to listen.

“I’m getting mixed feelings from everybody,” said Kenny Williams, who serves as the city’s police chief as well as its city manager. “It’s something close to people’s heart.”

But Williams said that the state of the Police Department’s current facilities at City Hall need to be modernized for a growing city, he said.

Williams rattles off a list of problems: The officer workspace is cramped, there’s no meeting space, there’s one locker room for both sexes, four sergeants share one office, paper-thin walls require the chief to use a sound machine to preserve confidentiality, parking for both staff and cars seized as evidence is inadequate, and property is increasingly stored in trailers.

“It’s a terrible way to operate,” he said.

Williams said the city has enough money to acquire and complete the modifications on an existing building but not to build a headquarters from scratch. McFarland’s most recent budget indicates it has $2 million set aside from a bond measure.

Troubled history

Williams was sworn in as police chief last year, and he later began serving as city manager as well. He said the City Council has charged him with bringing stability and accountability to the city. McFarland has been wracked with a steady stream of scandal and financial struggle.

In 2009, the city reestablished its Police Department, but low salaries and lax screening turned the department into a haven for officers and even chiefs with their own serious misconduct records, according to a report from UC Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program. In 2011, residents marched on City Hall to complain about a towing contract that incentivized the city and police to stop residents for minor infractions. A suit settled in 2017 claimed that city leaders quashed a search warrant on behalf of a city councilman’s son.

In 2019, then-City Manager John Wooner went missing for months before his body was found in a Dodge Durango at the bottom of the Kern River. An investigation suggested that before his disappearance, Wooner was distraught over a $180,000 shortfall in the city budget. In 2020, a former police chief pleaded no contest to charges involving padding the paychecks of police officers performing renovation work on his home. A police investigation found that Wooner knew about the misappropriation.

Locals haven’t forgotten this history, and there’s skepticism about new leadership. The petition to save the library, started by Elias Ahumada, states, “Rewarding a police department, with a long history of corruption, with the city’s only public library is disgraceful and negligent.”

Ahumada grew up in Wasco and Delano, communities on either side of McFarland. They are home to the Wasco State Prison, North Kern State Prison and Kern Valley State Prison. In 2020, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility opened in McFarland — the deal with the private contractors brings revenue into the city.

“We have a lot of money that we pour into prisons. We have prisons and police departments,” he said. “What we lack is educational and community resources.”

Considering alternatives

Williams said the council has instructed him to consider alternatives. All the initial suggestions assumed the library would move. Williams pointed to the schools, which have their own libraries. He said there might be some room in the building’s current meeting room for the library. Council members floated the idea of using a bookmobile or seeking private funds to build another library. A community member suggested setting up a computer lab for adults. But at a City Council meeting last week, Williams said he is looking into other options, “not just an elimination of that library.”

Phil Corr, president of Friends of the McFarland Library, believes these vague promises to seek alternatives are inadequate.

“I really think the library is being viewed as an afterthought,” he said.

Schools won’t allow just any adult to come onto campus to visit the library, Corr said. School libraries typically aren’t open for students late after school, during breaks and in the summer. And Natalie, 9, has one big complaint about her school library: she’s only allowed to check out two books at a time.

Kern County Library spokesperson Jasmin LoBasso said the idea of libraries as a mere book depository is a nostalgic one. Libraries are also a place to find multiple perspectives and verify facts in an era of information overload. Patrons come into libraries with basic questions or big ones, like how to find a new job, she said.

“It’s important that we have a library there,” LoBasso said. “At this point in time, we don’t have plans to depart.”

But one of the main arguments for acquiring the library is that the building is hardly used. The McFarland Branch is currently only open Thursdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“It’s only used twice a week, and we would use it 24/7,” Williams said.

Some young patrons have their own solution to that.

“Open it every day,” Natalie said.

The pandemic threw a wrench into operating hours for many libraries. But two or three days have been standard in rural areas like McFarland for over a decade, according to LoBasso, except for a few years when there was extra funding to open them an extra day.

When Shafter, a small rural town about 20 miles southwest of McFarland, launched a program called the Education Partnership in 2010, the city paid to extend public library hours an extra day each week as it rolled out tutoring and college prep programs.

David Franz, the director of Education Partnership, said the city has been able to dedicate 5 percent of its city budget to the program this year because Shafter is in a better financial position than most small cities in the valley. It has not had to make a hard decision between public safety or education.

But Franz also discovered an unfortunate truth in his work with Shafter.

“Our libraries are horrifically underfunded,” said Franz.

In Kern County, local government contributed $6.17 per person for library services for the 2020-21 year, according to a survey of California public libraries. That put it just behind Imperial, Del Norte, Madera and Yuba counties, which all received less than $10 per person, according to the same survey. The library systems of Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alpine counties, on the other hand, received over $100 per person.

Support needed

Many counties and municipalities have special funding mechanisms for community libraries. In 1994, San Francisco voted in favor of a property tax to fund its libraries. In 1998, Fresno County voted in favor of a one-eighth-cent sales tax, which has helped to ensure libraries have $33 million to operate this year. That doesn’t include $25.2 million in capital funding for new libraries in Clovis and Reedley.

The Kern County Library has no dedicated fund through property or sales taxes and is almost entirely reliant on the county’s general fund.

“That’s one of the biggest differences between Kern County and other library systems,” said LoBasso.

Libraries must jockey for priority against other county departments. In 2016, then-Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green argued against across-the-board cuts at a Board of Supervisors meeting. She said public safety funding for deputies and prosecutors should be spared even “if that means closing every library in this county.”

Kern County had the opportunity to change this in 2016. A ballot measure would have raised funds for the library with a one-eighth-cent sales tax measure, modeled on Fresno’s. It was launched after a failed effort by the Board of Supervisors to privatize the library system. But the measure faced opposition from local taxpayer groups, Republicans and Kern County Supervisor David Couch, whose district now includes McFarland. It failed to meet the necessary two-thirds threshold with 51.68 percent of the vote.

Kern County’s budget, and therefore its library, was uncertain in 2020-21. Residents in Shafter received word that their library would not be on the list of branches to reopen after the pandemic, and they worried it could be shuttered entirely. That spurred a “Save the Shafter Library” movement which resulted in the city’s library seceding from the county library system entirely.

In January, the Shafter Library and Learning Center reopened as an independent library thanks to the city and Bakersfield College, which now provide staffing. It is now open five days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. — more than any other library in Kern County.

Franz said libraries are good investments for communities. The number of books children have access to at home is correlated with educational achievement, income and likelihood of participating in crime. But there are intangible benefits for the community that can’t be measured, and the city has tried to support that, too, with a community mural. He said there’s been a real hunger for a community library in Shafter.

“There’s a community spirit that grows up around the library,” Franz said. “There’s a joy around this public space that is fun and welcoming to families.”

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The far-reaching consequences of becoming a victim of a crime

The seminal model of Becker (1968) describes the decision to engage in crime, based on a trade-off between costs and benefits of committing the crime. The growing empirical economics of the crime literature building on these notions highlights different potential costs and consequences for offenders once they become part of the criminal justice system. Examples include the costs of being convicted and incarcerated in terms of recidivism, labour market earnings, or spillover effects on family members (see Chalfin and McCrary 2017, Draca and Machin 2019 for recent reviews of these literatures, and Pinotti 2020 and Bhuller et al. 2019 for the cases of Italy and Norway). However, much less is known about victim-related costs, even though many crimes involve at least one victim (Bindler et al. 2020). 

Although, in contrast to offending, becoming a victim of crime is not a decision, this does not imply that knowing the costs of crime for a victim is not important. Victim-related costs make up an important part of the social cost of crime and better knowledge of the (long-term) costs can speak to the non-trivial question of suitable compensation and support for victims. Previous studies have provided evidence that exposure to crime has the potential to change behaviour, risk perceptions (e.g. Salm and Vollaard forthcoming), mental health (e.g. Cornaglia et al. 2014, Dustmann and Fasani 2016), and subjective wellbeing (e.g. Cohen 2008, Johnston et al. 2018). If this is the case, then questions about labour market impacts – some of the core economic outcomes – naturally follow. From a theoretical perspective, being a victim of crime can worsen labour market outcomes either directly, through a deterioration in physical and mental health, or more indirectly as victims respond by adjusting working hours, changing jobs or even the location where they live. 

In a new paper (Bindler and Ketel forthcoming), we aim to contribute to the limited evidence on the consequences of being a victim of crime by providing empirical evidence of its adverse effects on individuals’ labour market outcomes. Using unique and detailed register data from the Netherlands, we show that being a victim of crime leads to a significant loss in earnings and increase in social benefit receipt. The negative labour market responses persist over time and are accompanied by shorter-lived responses in health expenditure. 

Design

One difficulty in estimating the effects of being a victim of crime is the underlying simultaneity problem. What comes first – unemployment, which potentially increases the risk of being a victim; or becoming a victim, which potentially increases the risk of unemployment? Another problem is that of selection: individuals who become a victim of crime may differ in unobservable characteristics (e.g. risk-taking behaviours) from non-victims. If these unobserved factors are also related to labour market success, this complicates identification of the causal effect. In addition to these identification challenges, researchers face a scarcity of high-quality data on both incidents of people becoming victims of crime and the respective outcomes. Previous studies have therefore mostly relied on either small-scale survey data, aggregate crime data, or (more selective) hospitalisation data to measure or proxy for incidents of becoming a victim. These types of data sources put a limit on the types of empirical approaches that can be employed to solve the simultaneity and selection problems. 

The setting in the Netherlands provides new possibilities to deal with the above-mentioned issues. In the Netherlands, victims of all reported cases are registered by the police. These individual records can be linked to an almost two decade-long panel of labour market registry data (based on tax records). To account for selection into (different types of) offences, we only consider individuals who are a victim of crime during the sample period (2005-2016). That is, we exploit variation in the timing of being a victim but do not compare victims to non-victims (or even victims of one type of offence to victims of another type of offence). Intuitively, we compare labour market outcomes before and after being a victim while controlling for individual traits that do not change over time. By exploiting the monthly frequency in the data, we can trace out changes in labour market outcomes before and after the crime and assess the plausible sequence of events. Further, we can study potential spillovers by linking individuals to their respective household members. Finally, when the offender is known to the police, we observe whether the victim and the offender live in the same household, which allows us to separate out domestic violence cases (a very distinct type of crime, see also Bhalotra 2020). 

Main findings 

Figure 1 gives an example of the results for male victims of assault. In the top panel, the two vertical lines in the middle indicate the month of the assault. We see that male victims of assault experience an immediate and significant drop in earnings (blue circles) following the assault, implying a 7.5% drop in earnings one year after compared to the month before. At the same time, the number of days with social benefit receipt (red triangles) increase by 2.9%.

Figure 1 Male assault victims

 

 

Notes: The top panel plots the estimated effect of victimization and 95% confidence intervals for log earnings (blue dots) and days of benefits (red triangles). The solid vertical lines mark the month of the assault. The bottom panel plots the estimated coefficients and 95% confidence intervals for total health expenditure (blue dots) and mental health expenditure (red triangles) as the dependent variable. The solid vertical lines mark the year of the crime. 
Source: Results based on calculations by the authors using microdata from Statistics Netherlands. 

In our paper, we show corresponding figures for male and female victims and document interesting heterogeneities in the effects of being a victim of crime across offences. For offences that likely involve physical violence (assault, robbery), the effects are immediate and largest in the short term, whereas for the other offences considered in the study (threat, burglary) there are more gradual changes following the crime. These labour market effects are in many cases accompanied by short-term increases in total and mental health expenditure, as illustrated for male victims of assault in the bottom panel of Figure 1. Yet, they are also seen for victims with no or only modest increases in medical costs – especially among females. On top of the heterogeneity across offences, our study finds noticeable gender differences, with generally stronger labour market effects for females and with distinct patterns of results when it comes to domestic violence cases.

For most offences, the labour market outcomes do not return to levels prior to being a victim within four years. A likely explanation for such scarring effects is path dependency: individuals who become unemployed or leave the labour market may not return to work or remain long-term reliant on benefits. An additional explanation is that crime is a pivotal event that triggers other changes in life. We find suggestive evidence that being a victim of subsequent crimes and criminal involvement, as well as other life events (moves and family outcomes), may contribute to the longer-term effects. 

Implications

Our findings of persistent labour market costs of being a victim of crime have important policy implications, as they speak to the ongoing debate concerning the social cost of crime and to the non-trivial question of suitable compensation for victims. What are the more indirect costs (including adverse labour market effects) and should they be considered? While this ultimately depends on the policy aim, agents of the criminal justice system (e.g. judges or juries) may be challenged to award an appropriate compensation amount to the victim and having guidelines for these amounts is valuable (e.g. Johnston et al. 2018). 

Naturally, given the still scarce empirical evidence on the topic, more research will be needed to robustly inform the policy debate on questions regarding being a victim of crime, labour market outcomes, and necessary support systems. This is particularly relevant as the Netherlands has a relatively generous welfare system – both in terms of health insurance and social welfare. While our study cannot speak to this directly, one may only speculate whether the negative impacts in other countries with less generous support systems, more inequality, and/or different access to healthcare are larger than those we document here. To enable the necessary research, to fill the knowledge gap and to learn about important policy lessons, more high-quality data on being a victim of crime will be needed in the future.

References

Becker, G (1968), “Crime and punishment: An economic approach”, Journal of Political Economy, 76 (2): 169–217.

Bhalotra, S (2020), “A shadow pandemic of domestic violence: The potential role of job loss and unemployment benefits”, VoxEU.org, 13 November.

Bindler, A, R Hjalmarsson, and N Ketel (2020), “Costs of victimization”, Handbook of Labor, Human Resources and Population Economics, Springer.

Bindler, A and N Ketel (forthcoming), “Scaring or scarring? Labour market effects of criminal victimisation”, Journal of Labor Economics.

Bhuller, M, G Dahl, K V Løken, and M Mogstad (2019), “Incarceration can be rehabilitative”, VoxEU.org, 24 March.

Chalfin, A and J McCrary (2017), “Criminal deterrence: A review of the literature”, Journal of Economic Literature 55 (1): 5–48.

Cohen, M A (2008), “The effect of crime on life satisfaction”, The Journal of Legal Studies 37 (S2): 325–353.

Cornaglia, F, N E Feldman, and A Leigh (2014), “Crime and mental wellbeing”, Journal of Human Resources 49 (1): 110–140.

Draca, M and S Machin (2015), “Crime and economic incentives”, Annual Review of Economics 7: 389–408.

Dustmann, C and F Fasani (2016), “The effect of local area crime on mental health”, The Economic Journal 126: 978–1017.

Johnston, D W, M A Shields, and A Suziedelyte (2018), “Victimisation, well-being and compensation: Using panel data to estimate the cost of violent crime”, The Economic Journal 128 (611): 1545–1569.

Pinotti, P (2020), “Burden of proof: Measuring and understanding crime”, VoxEU.org, 1 August.

Salm, M and B Vollaard (2021), “The dynamics of crime risk perceptions”, American Law and Economics Review 23(2): 520-561.